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Timkat Festival 2011 Addis Ababa

January 19 21 Ethiopia

The Timkat Festival other wise known as the Feast of Epiphany, is the most important festival in the Ethiopian calendar. The Timkat-Feast of Epiphany commemorates the baptism of Jesus Christ, John the Baptist's blessing of Christ in the River Jordan, with this festival attracting many tourists to Addis Ababa.

This old Christian ritual is celebrated with grandeur in Addis Ababa, with this grand celebration lasting for 3 days, usually falling two weeks after Christmas in the middle week of January.

These festivities provide a rare glimpse of a church tradition that dates back well over 1000 years. Arrangements for Timkat-Feast of Epiphany start well in advance in Addis Ababa. The feast that takes place during the festival is extravagant and on a large scale.

The festival starts on the Eve of Timkat, on the 2nd day people commemorate Christ's baptism in the Jordan River by John, the Baptist, with the final day of the festival is devoted to the Feast of St. Michael, the seraph, one of most popular saints of Ethiopia.

On the eve of Timkat, the ketera (priests) and debteras (deacons) and the congregation remove the tabot (symbolising the Ark of the Covenant) from each church, the keteras are clothed in amazing ceremonial robes and are shaded by elaborately sequinned velvet umbrellas. They shake sistras (religious bells) and swing bronze censers of incense.

The Tabot is carried on the head of one of the priests, cloaked in layers of cloth to protect it. When the procession reaches the water, the Tabots are placed in special ceremonial tents, where the priests pray all night and crowds of people dressed in white camp out, where they pray, eat and drink by the light of flickering fires.

People attend a Mass at around 2.00 am, armed with oil lamps. The priest extinguishes a candle burning on a pole near the sacred river. Some of the worshipers leap into the river after this act. The Tabots are then taken back to the churches and the festivities continue.

Towards dawn the crowds amass again to gather around the blessed water. Weather-beaten monks and nuns pray silently as the most senior priest dips a golden cross and extinguishes a consecrated candle in the water. Then the focal point of the entire festival arrives as the priest takes water from the pool and sprinkles it on the assembled congregation in commemoration of Christ's baptism.

Following the baptism, the Tabots return to their respective churches, with feasting, singing and dancing continuing and gathering pace. The best places to be for the celebrations are Gondar, Lalibela or Addis Ababa.

Things to know if you are visiting Ethiopia…

Ethiopia, the oldest independent nation in Africa, twice the size of Kenya, France or Texas, full of rugged mountains (25 of them are over 4000m high), broad savanahs, massive lakes and rivers, with over 80 different languages spoken.

Ethiopia is situated in North Eastern Africa bordering Sudan, Eritrea, Djibouti, Somalia with Kenya to the south.

Domestic flights are probably the best way of getting round the country, with good services offered by Ethiopian Airlines between all the major cities.

By Train, there is only 1 route running from Addis Ababa to Dire Dawa and conditions can be uncomfortable and overcrowded.

By Bus, the bus service is run by the government and is slow and unreliable. Fuel shortages often mean there is no form of public transport available, so your best option when traveling is to fly.

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